Some people throughout history seem to draw to themselves mystery and intrigue, to become larger than life and remain inscrutable enigmas. The mysterious woman known as Nina Kulagina began her strange life when she was born in 1926 in St. Petersburg, Russia, after which at the tender age of just 14 years old she found herself enlisted in a tank regiment fighting the Nazis during World War II. It was to be a grim chapter in her life, during which she endured the numerous hardships of war and violence before an injury ended her military career. Kulagina would go on to get married, settle down, and have children, but it was during this quiet time in her life that things would begin to get very strange, and she would launch herself into the annals of legendary cases of powerful psychic individuals.
It began one day when she realized that on occasion objects in her house would move when she was very angry, sometimes quite dramatically. It was not a little frightening, and she at first suspected that her home might actually be haunted, but the link between her anger and the phenomena was undeniable, and she had vague memories of her own mother possessing the ability to move things with her mind. Perplexed, she tried to focus her concentration but at first was unable to control what appeared to be psychokinesis, or the ability to move objects with the power of the mind alone. With practice she found that she slowly gained the ability to move objects at will, starting with small light objects such as strips of paper, cigarettes, and matchsticks, and gradually graduating to heavier, more substantial objects, much to her own amazement.
As her powers grew she allegedly started to manifest other abilities as well. She found that she could do things such as see what was inside people’s pockets, see colors with her eyes closed merely by touching something, and even by her own accounts healing people or generating electromagnetic energy from her body. She mostly kept these extraordinary powers to herself, but after suffering mental problems she was sent to a hospital for observation, where she was seen by staff to display some of her abilities and this is when word would begin to get out about her, attracting interest from parapsychologists around Russia. One of the first to come and test Nina’s abilities was Soviet Scientist Edward Naumov, who quickly affirmed her potent psychokinetic abilities when he spread out some matches in front of her in an impromptu experiment and she promptly moved them with her mind to the edge of the table and onto the floor.
After this she was supposedly intensely studied by Soviet scientists in numerous experiments under controlled conditions, and the extent of her abilities became truly clear and undeniable. One of the most widely tested of Nina’s powers was that of psychokinesis, and she was consistently able to baffle all present for these demonstrations, purportedly even under the strictest of laboratory conditions. Among the many experiments carried out some truly stand out as bizarre. In one test she was seen to be able to move objects that were completely sealed in a Plexiglas container and to even remove a marked matchstick from a pile under these conditions, and in another experiment she was observed to cause a ping pong ball to levitate for several seconds. Perhaps the most spectacular one was when Kulagina was seated in front of a vat of saline solution in which hovered an egg, floating there like an insect in amber. Kulagina was confirmed to have no way to physically reach it or affect it with any sort of trickery, and with some amount of intense concentration she was allegedly able to open the egg and separate the yolk from the white as puzzled scientists looked on, even able to put the two halves back together again if she was able to keep her focus for long enough. This experiment was filmed, as were many of them.
These displays of psychokinesis were found to have profound measurable effects on Kulagina’s heartbeat, brain waves and electromagnetic field, and they also caused her discomfort and drained her both mentally and physically, even causing dramatic weight loss over a short period of time, yet she was always willing to continue these experiments. Other powers were also supposedly uncovered and tested by scientists, such as the ability to develop film that was kept in an envelope with her mind, to tell what color any object was without being able to see it, to magnetize or demagnetize objects, and to cause images to appear on paper, but perhaps most impressive of all was her ability to seemingly affect organic tissue and living cells. Indeed, it was this power that lies at the center of one of her most famous, and indeed weirdest experiments of her career.
The experiment was organized by Soviet scientist Dr. Genady Sergeyev, who had spent years studying the mysterious woman and running her through countless tests. In the experiment, the still-beating heart of a frog was placed in a solution and Kulagina was asked to see if she could influence it in any way with her mind. The outcome was apparently more than anyone could have hoped for, as the psychic was allegedly able to speed the heart up, slow it down, and with an incredible burst of concentration eerily make it stop altogether. Later rumors would even claim that she could influence human hearts, but this is unconfirmed. As to how she did it, Sergeyev would speculate that she was somehow drawing in energy from the atmosphere around her and project it at the thing she was focusing on, and he made electromagnetic readings that he claimed supported this theory.
All of these amazing feats were starting to get out into the wild and into international news, before long attracting scientists from overseas as well, who also seemed to be very impressed by her displays. In the meantime, Kulagina changed her name to Nelya Mikhailova in order to hide her real identity in the face of increased scrutiny from the public, and throughout it all she was said to be labelled the real deal by nearly everyone who studied her. Of course there were skeptics, who waved it all away as illusions, sleight of hand, and trickery, but these experiments were consistently claimed to be under the most stringent conditions, and despite accusations of cheating it has never been conclusively proven that she was ever caught doing so in any of these bizarre demonstrations. Indeed, in one instance when she was accused of fraud by a Soviet newspaper Kulagina won a defamation case against her, further propelling her legend.
The main problem with all of this is that it is almost solely based on reports coming out of the Soviet Union at a time when the Cold War was going on and there was much competition between the United States on many playing fields. Indeed, both governments were engaged with their own studies into psychic phenomena at the time, so there seems to be the definite possibility that the stories of Kulagina’s powers were exaggerated at best or completely fabricated at worst. In the end there is simply no way to really verify any of it, all sources lead back to Soviet claims, often with murky details on how these supposed “strict experiments” were carried out, and we are merely forced to take their word for it. There is also the fact that, despite the Soviets claiming that dozens of scientists examined her, including two Nobel laureates no less, there doesn’t seem to have been any official scientific paper ever published on it all, which seems odd for such a sensational, potentially groundbreaking subject. Then there is also the fact that the videos of her supposed demonstrations are grainy and indistinct, not really counting as hard evidence. Although Nina Kulagina was without a doubt a real person, there is no real way at all to untangle fact from possible fiction, or to really know whether she was a scam artist or one of the most powerful psychics ever. We just don’t know.
Whether Kulagina was the real deal or not, she stood by her claims for the rest of her life, and it has been said that her use of her alleged abilities may have led to her demise. Her supposed psychic abilities were said to be well-documented as taking a serious toll on her physical health, even causing a severe heart attack at one point in the 1970s that almost killed her. Over the years she continued various demonstrations and experiments, but she was often described as looking increasingly haggard and frail, and in 1990 she finally passed away at the age of 64, taking whatever secrets she had to the grave with her. So was this all Soviet trickery, the work of a charlatan, or evidence of an enormously powerful psychic lost to history? No matter what one thinks, Nina Kulagina has certainly cemented herself as a true paranormal historical oddity, and a mysterious case that has never really been solved.